The Game Of The Name by Nigel Roth


Back in the day, I worked with a design agency whose director’s first name was Merriman. At the time I thought this quite odd and slightly funny, but his work was great and we had a good beer together on at least one occasion.

I’d forgotten about Merriman altogether until I was searching for a translator for some work in Eastern Europe, and discovered Ivana Mandic. I’m sure she does fabulous translating, based on her reviews, but what a name.

And so, being on a train for the next seven hours with nothing to do but look at Ohio, I decided to investigate the oddities of the name-world and their impact on the namee.

And if I didn’t hit the jackpot right away; the case of Adolf Hitler Campbell was the top headline of that particular day.

Campbell’s moniker, which Walmart refused to decorate a cake with, is unfortunate. He didn’t choose his name, his crazy Nazi-loving parents did. He is the product of their lunacy and will have to live with it or change it.

But, how important is a name?

When Barack Obama was elected it was during a moment of extreme Musliphobia catalyzed by a deathly fear of Islamic extremism. And yet, with an Arabic middle-name and a family name just a mistype away from the world’s most-wanted terrorist, he still won.

Professor James Bruning, of Ohio University, which I probably passed on my uneventful Amtrak trip, says that often we semiologically associate names with a set of skills.

For example, he says that Asians are thought to be exceptionally good at mathematics, Germans good with engineering, and Greeks good at finance. So, was Obama’s election a case of a negative association with a positive twist? Maybe the real reason Obama was elected was that, as the American philosophy had become to fight fire with fire and to attack when attacked, the nation associated Obama with Osama and hoped he’d have similar traits, but use them positively, a bit like Harry Potter against JK Rowling.

Alternatively, it could’ve been the fact that the opposing camp consisted of an old man and a living brain-donor.

But I digress, as Mr. Clemens would say.

Professor Bruning also writes that we tend to associate specific names with a person’s perceived ability to do a job. At the time, he gave the world’s fastest sprinter Usain Bolt, as a prime example.

But, what of the other superfast sprinters in history?

Tyson Gay, doesn’t sound like particuelry fast. Then there’s Asafa Powell, Maurice Greene (who I think used to be my dentist), Donovan Bailey, Bruny Surin, Leroy Burrell, Olusoji Fasuba, and Carl Lewis; none of whom have a name which even remotely resembles anything particularly fast. Justin Gatlin is in the top flight, and his second name is the same as a gun used by the Union forces during the American Civil War, but hardly what you’d call lightning-like.

Did the famous Harrold Ballitch invent ‘Tough-actin’ Tinactin’? No, he became an ophthalmologist. And, did Rusty Kuntz study geriatric gynecology? No, of course not; he became an outfielder for the Chicago White Sox, the Minnesota Twins, and the Detroit Tigers.

So, maybe people don’t have names that particularly match certain professions. Most Smiths probably don’t actually make anything anymore; Coopers aren’t the barrel-makers of the new era; and, Shakespeares no longer hurl pointy objects.

Well, enough of Professor Bruning.

Psychologist Dr. Brett Pelham, from Gallup, says people have a tendency to live in places that resemble their names. He notes that women named Georgia are over-represented in the state of Georgia, and that you’re more likely to bump into a man called Louis in Louisiana. This does pose the obvious question of who you would run into in, say, Fucking, Austria, in Toad Suck or Bald Knob, Arkansas, or in Hookersville, West Virginia. What about a jaunt around the old UK. Who would you expect to have tea with in Titty Hill, Wetwang, Thong, Muff, Twatt, or Cockermouth.

I shudder at the thought, and we go on.

Pelham also says that we are much more likely to partner with people of the same name, because we all suffer (to some degree) from “implicit egotism”. Smiths, for example, are disproportionately likely to mate with Smiths than any other surname.

Maybe.

But consider someone like Beezow Doo-Doo Zopittybop-Bop-Bop. a man responsible for finding the cure for the common name, or KentuckyFriedCruelty.com, an activist and human website.

Or, the German Hubert Blaine, whose actual name was Adolph Blaine Charles David Earl Frederick Gerald Hubert Irvin John Kenneth Lloyd Martin Nero Oliver Paul Quincy Randolph Sherman Thomas Uncas Victor William Xerxes Yancy Zeus Wolfeschlegel­steinhausen­bergerdorff­welche­vor­altern­waren­gewissenhaft­schafers­wessen­schafe­waren­wohl­gepflege­und­sorgfaltigkeit­beschutzen­vor­angreifen­durch­ihr­raubgierig­feinde­welche­vor­altern­zwolfhundert­tausend­jahres­voran­die­erscheinen­von­der­erste­erdemensch­der­raumschiff­genacht­mit­tungstein­und­sieben­iridium­elektrisch­motors­gebrauch­licht­als­sein­ursprung­von­kraft­gestart­sein­lange­fahrt­hinzwischen­sternartig­raum­auf­der­suchen­nachbarschaft­der­stern­welche­gehabt­bewohnbar­planeten­kreise­drehen­sich­und­wohin­der­neue­rasse­von­verstandig­menschlichkeit­konnte­fortpflanzen­und­sich­erfreuen­an­lebenslanglich­freude­und­ruhe­mit­nicht­ein­furcht­vor­angreifen­vor­anderer­intelligent­geschopfs­von­hinzwischen­sternartig­raum Sr.

Not so easy there, eh Professor?

Other psychologists have further stated that the sounds of names lead us to pre-think the appearance, intelligence, and sociability of a person. George, for example, is supposedly the picture of a boring and unattractive person. Lucy, a wanton jezebel, I presume. Apply that thought to names like Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom, and Little Pixie Geldof, and tell me what you’re thinking. Quietly.

Moreover, how does that bode for this list of boy’s names from the top one hundred just a few years ago, and see if you can spot any theme here:

Brayden, Hayden, Jayden, Jaden, Jordan, Jaxon, Jackson, Aiden, Ayden, Aaron, Grayson, Mason, Bryson, Brandon, Colton, Carson, Nolan, Logan, and Landon.

In recorded history, and probably beyond, there has always been a fashion for checking what names are most popular and naming your poor child one of those: something about marching with the band, fitting-in, not standing-out, and increasing your offspring’s social acceptability. This certainly is a competitive world, and yet most of those names sound exactly the same when spoken via a mobile phone in the kitchen of my house where the wifi ‘dips’.

Will they be as successful as, say, real estate appraiser Cissy Mangina or real estate agent Evelyn Sackrider. Or, Captain Hyman Shocker of the 5th Army Reserve. Or, Dick Swett and Harry Baals, who both ventured into politics with gusto and a considerable amount of bravery. Or, Chew Kok Soon, a lawyer who read Law at the University of East London and was later admitted as an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya.

It seems they’ll probably get on, just the same.

A silly name may be more difficult to cope with at school. Sure, Mayflower, Elleighette, Sha’NaeNae, Car’Mello, and Jettamarie will raise eyebrows, but it may also make you stand out at interviews; ‘Sit down, Sincere, and tell me why we should trust you?’.

Names, of course, can point to cultural differences, ancestral backgrounds, and social class; think of the Royal names, like Edward, James, or Charles.

But, it’s probably more about how you’re brought up (or, if) that makes you what you are: balanced and open parental guidance, extended-family support, a nurturing environment that encourages your natural development path rather than stifling it. That will be far more important than a name when it comes to being inventive, innovative, creative in today's world.

And anyone who disagrees is probably just jealous of you and your more-than-adequate name.


credit picture (c) Heiner

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